Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

RELIGION WITHOUT A CREED.

To the Editor of the Christian Observer. Sir,- In your recent animadversions on the fashionable error of the day, you have been obviously, and very naturally, unable to deal with all its parts and aspects. One of these aspects, on which you have merely touched in passing, is that of the universal absence of anything like form or system. All existing modes of belief are assailed in turn; but nothing is offered in their room.

This, however, is not new; or at least not of very recent appearance. Since the first budding of what Mr. Conybeare described as the “Broad Church Theology,” its vagueness and obscurity, its want of any definite outline or intelligible character, has been frequently complained of. In archbishop Whateley's Cautions for the Times, published now some eight years since, there occurs an admirable description of this peculiarity of the new school. In the twenty-ninth Number the writer says,

“The injury done by vague and indeterminate forms of expression upon practical subjects—such as Theology, Morals, and Politics, --has been well compared to the mischievous effects of a London fog. The danger in both cases arises from the mixture of light and obscurity. If the absence of light were total, and the darkness were, like that of Egypt, 'a darkness that might be felt,'-an entire suspension of all human activity would ensue. • They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place.' But the light in a fog is just sufficient to tempt men to continue their business, and venture abroad; though not enough to save them from the risk of running against a lamp-post, or stumbling down a cellar. So likewise, in the case of an intellectual haze, the great danger is, that men, with nothing better than half-views and glimmering notions of things, will nevertheless judge and act as confidently as if they were judging and acting in the broad day-light of clear reason." “Let the reader imagine to himself, if he can, a mist so resplendent

gay prismatic colours, that men should forget its inconvenience in their admiration of its beauty, and a kind of nebular taste should

prevail, for preferring that glorious dimness to vulgar daylight. Nothing short of such a case as this could afford a parallel to the mischief done by some late writers, at present popular in England and America ;sort of children of the mist,' who wage war upon Christianity under cover of the twilight. These persons have long been accustoming their disciples to admire, as a style truly philosophical, what can bardly be described otherwise than as a certain haze of words imperfectly understood, through which some remote ideas, scarcely distinguishable in their outlines, loom as it were upon the view, in a kind of dusky grandeur which vastly exaggerates their proportions."

This grave and just rebuke was probably aimed at such philosophers as Emerson and Carlile, and such theologians as Kingsley

with

a

and Maurice. There is a change, and a perceptible difference,

a when we come to the more recent writings of Jowett, Temple, and Baden Powell. We find less brilliancy, and less obscurity. Some of the authors of the volume of Essays and Reviews of which you have already spoken, do really seem to wish to make themselves understood. I do not think that there is any affectation of fine writing, or any desire to be thought "profound,” in either Dr. Temple or Mr. Jowett. But there is one point of resemblance, which is more important than all others, and which clearly exists among all these parties ;—and that is, a desire to get rid of the old Christianity,—the Christianity of the ancient Creeds, the Protestant Confessions, and the Thirty-nine Articles, without substituting anything in its room.

The most explicit confession or declaration of this kind, is found in Mr. Jowett's proposal for a new kind of Christian missions, - a proposal which evinces, at once, both the author's sincerity, and also his extreme simplicity. The Bible he gravely proposes to leave behind, saying,

“ It is not the book of scripture which we should seek to give them, to be reverenced like the Vedas and the Koran ; but the truth of the book, the mind of Christ and his apostles, in which all lesser details and differences should be lost and absorbed. We want to awaken in them the sense that God is their father, and they His children ;—that is of more importance than any theory about the inspiration of scripture. But to teach in this spirit, the missionary should himself be able to separate the accidents from the essence of religion ; he should be conscious that the power of the gospel resides not in the particulars of theology, but in the Christian life.” (p. 428.)

Does it not seem at least probable, that St. Paul understood wherein consisted “the power of the gospel,” quite as well as Mr. Jowett ? And he explains his theory of missions with great explicitness; telling us, that

“ The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom : but we preach Christ crucified; unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;—but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God." (1 Cor. i. 23.)

The field of Christian missions is not an untrodden field ;there is no lack of the lessons of experience there. Has Mr. Jowett never studied those lessons ? and yet does he now desire to propose a new theory, a new method of teaching, to us? Let him read the story of Regent's Town, where William Johnson, in a few short years, christianized a large village of savages ;-or the narrative of the Burmese mission, where Judson carried Christianity into a whole nation, and let him shew us, if he can, any single instance in which a missionary, without “the particulars of theology,” has converted, we will not say a village, or a pation, but even a single human being.

More than half a century ago, both the true and the false theories of missions were described in one of the simple narratives of the United Brethren. Johannes, a North American Indian, thus described the mode and manner of his own conversion :

“ Brethren, I have been a heathen, and have grown

old

among them; therefore I know very well how it is with the heathen, and how they think. A preacher once came to us, desiring to instruct us, and he began by proving that there was a God. On which we said to him, Well, and dost thou think we are ignorant of that ? Now go

back again to the place from whence thou camest.'

“Soon after, another preacher came, and began to teach us, saying, * You must not steal, nor drink too much, nor lie, nor lead wicked lives.' And we answered him, “Fool that thou art ! dost thou think that we do not know that? Go and learn it first thyself, and teach the people whom thou belongest to, not to do those things. Thus we sent him away.

“ But, some time after, Christian Henry, one of the Brethren, came to me into my hut, and sat down by me. His discourse was nearly in these words, I come to thee in the name of the Lord of heaven and earth. He sends me to acquaint thee, that He would gladly save thee, and make thee happy, and deliver thee from the miserable state in which thou liest at present. To this end he became a man, gave his life a ransom for man, and shed his blood for man, All that believe in the name of this Jesus, obtain the forgiveness of sins. To all those who receive Him by faith, He gives power to become the sons of God. The Holy Spirit dwelleth in their hearts, and they are made free through the blood of Christ, from the slavery and dominion of sin. And though thou art the chief of sinners, yet if thou prayest to the Father in his name, and believest in him as a sacrifice for thy sins, thou shalt be heard and saved, and He will give thee a crown of life, and thou shalt live with Him in heaven for ever.'

" When he had finished his discourse, he lay down upon a board in my hut, fatigued by his journey, and fell asleep.

“ But I could never forget his words. They constantly recurred to my mind; even though I went to sleep, I dreamed of the blood which Christ had shed for us. I thought, This is very strange, and quite different from what I have ever heard.' So I went and interpreted Christian Henry's words to the other Indians, and thus, through the grace of God, an awakening took place among us. I tell you, therefore, brethren, preach to the heathen Christ, his blood, his sufferings, and his death, if you would have your words to gain an entrance among them; if you wish to confer a blessing upon them.”

A mission to the heathen, on the principles enunciated by Mr. Jowett, would be one of the greatest absurdities that any mind could conceive. The first idea of a mission involves a message, -some gospel, or good news, which is to be declared to those who are the object of such mission. And what is that message to be?

Is it to be that of St. Paul,—"I delivered to you first of all that which I also received,-how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures ?”

a

true.”

a

No, that will hardly do ; for some of these Seven Essayists certainly do not believe that “Christ died for our sins” at all.

Will they give the heathen the bible ? No, that would be out of the question ; for when a poor African began with the first page, and asked if that history was true, the missionary would have to reply, (on the principles of the Seven Essays,) “No, it is not

Will they give a poor heathen, then, the creed? No, hardly that; for the creed declares that God is the maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible ; and some of these essayists are rejoicing in the thought, that "the idea of creation” has been found to be an error ! The creed, too, says that “for us men and for our salvation" Christ came down from heaven; and the idea of "salvation” is not entertained by these writers.

Will the catechism, then, furnish the message? No; for the catechism teaches the scholar to profess belief in “God the Father, who made me and all the world; God the Son, who redeemed nie and all mankind; and God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth me and all the elect people of God.” And our supposed missionary would be no believer in any of these statements.

Such a missionary might, indeed, get as far as pure Deism, just as Napoleon Buonaparte silenced the French savans in Egypt who had been prating atheism, by pointing to the starry heavens, and demanding, “And who made all these?” But how much further,

“ can he carry the argument without the scriptures? Will not the vast amount of sin and misery which always covers the earth call in vain for an explanation? Can he argue better than Epicurus, who reflected that “Either the Deity wills against evil, but cannot accomplish bis will; or he can, but wills not; or he neither wills nor can; or he both wills and can. But if the latter, why all this evil prevalent in the world ?”

But Mr. Jowett will answer, that he has proposed to give to the heathen, not so much the mere book, as “the truth of the book,-, the inind of Christ and his apostles.”

Wonderful delusion ! for a man to dream that he can inculcate the teaching or truth of a book, when he has begun by destroying the credit and authority of that book. The volume which Mr. Jowett and Dr. Temple have ushered into the world leaves scarcely a page of Holy Scripture unquestioned. The Bible is declared to be only a fragment or vestige of some former bible which has perished. Book after book is denied to be genuine. The plainest statements of Moses are affirmed to be wholly untrue. Nearly all the facts described in the gospels are rejected as fabulous and incredible. And having thus reduced the book, in point of credibility, to a level with the Iliad of Homer, Mr. Jowett would send his missionary forth to preach something taken out of it! But what man of education or common sense throughout the heathen world would not meet him with the reasonable demand for some

a

[ocr errors]

credentials, some authority? And the bible, as a true document, having been given up at the outset, what authority, what credentials, could such an ambassador produce? How could he possibly meet the demand, “ Shew me why I am to believe what you say? You tell me this or that about God, and his goodness. Where is your proof? I see wickedness and wretchedness on every side ; if God is good and powerful, as you say, why is all this? But, above all, when

you declare to me certain things, and want me to believe them, have you any better reason to give me than this, that they suit your taste, and seem to you just and right? If you have no better or stronger reason to give than this, it is not likely that we shall give up our old belief and old practices merely to please you."

In brief, to repeat Dr. Vaughan's irrefragable objection : If we have not a Christianity sustained by authentic documents, we have none at all.If we have not a revelation from God, which is “truth without any mixture of error,” then we stand where Plato and Aristotle stood, and Christianity is nothing better than a flattering dream.

“ The particulars of theology,” of which Mr. Jowett speaks so slightingly, and which he thinks might be dispensed with in the case of a heathen, are the roots of a Christian life; and to have a Christian life without them, is as absurd a thought as that of a child who sticks a flowering bough into the ground and expects it to become a tree.

But the theme is a large one, and seems likely to lead me into too great length. What I chiefly wished to press upon your readers was the important fact, that while this new school is ready to question everything that we hold dear,—the scriptures, the atonement, the resurrection, the second coming of Christ,-it offers nothing in their room. I may boldly defy any one to read care- . fully over the volume of Essays and Reviews, and to frame out of it anything like a rational account of what the writers really hold to be true. The same deficiency, the same blank, has often struck me, in conversing with disciples of this school, in years past. They will cavil at the bible; deny its right to the title of the Word of God; reduce its inspiration to very little more than the inspiration of Plato or of Milton ; but when I have asked them for an affirmative statement, for a rational account of what the bible really is,—its origin, its history, and the nature and extent of its authority, I never could get any answer. The whole power of this school seems to consist in questioning, in denying, in pulling down. I do sincerely believe, that if the Seven Essayists were confined in seven different cells, and were compelled to furnish, each by each, an explicit account of their personal belief, it would be found, that instead of having embraced any one intelligible system, they differed as widely from each other, as they do, one and all, from the Apostles' Creed or the Thirty-nine Articles.

R. B. S.

[ocr errors]

a

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »